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Feed Your Face: Are Carbs Bad for Your Skin?

By Dr Jessica Wu

I’m attending an international cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery meeting in Hong Kong this week, and every night there’s a lavish banquet for the doctors. Dining together is a big part of Asian culture, but it can be a challenge to eat right, since there’s rice and noodles at practically every meal (even breakfast), which makes it hard to avoid carbs.

While carbs (short for carbohydrates) are an important source of energy, people often eat too many of them and not enough protein. This can lead to high blood sugar and insulin levels, which can affect the appearance of your skin and make your body store fat.


Carbs (such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, muffins, and other baked goods) can aggravate acne breakouts. In one study, volunteers who ate a high-carb diet experienced a 20 percent increase in their levels of androgens (“male” hormones that stimulate oil glands and cause acne) after just one week; volunteers who ate a diet high in protein had balanced blood sugar and lower levels of androgens in a week. Carbs are also broken down into glucose (blood sugar), which interacts with proteins in the skin, stimulating enzymes that break down collagen and elastic tissue and resulting in thinner skin that’s more likely to wrinkle.

The solution: Avoid refined grains, such as white toast, pastries, white rice, and white pasta. Instead, choose whole-grain products, which are digested more slowly, thereby producing less dramatic blood sugar elevations. In fact, the most important key to keeping your blood sugar balanced is the composition of the carbs you eat. In other words, it’s good to add chicken to your pasta, or peanut butter to your toast, but it’s much more important that your pasta be made of whole wheat and that you choose brown instead of white rice, and whole-wheat bread instead of pastries or muffins.


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